Dir: Terry Gilliam. UK-Can.2005. 121mins.
Terry Gilliam has spent hisentire career celebrating the power of the imagination to transcend the awfulrealities of life and death. He has described Mitch Cullin's Tideland as"Alice In Wonderland meets Psycho" and it sounds like idealmaterial for him.
Unfortunately, thismacabre, longwinded fantasy is closer in tone to the uninvolving grotesquerieof Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas than the charm of The Fisher King.It's hard to see a general audience having the patience for a film whose appealwill be strictly limited to a hardcore of Gilliam fans.
The film begins by quotingLewis Carroll and maintains the Alice In Wonderland connectionsthroughout as characters disappear down a rabbit hole and individuals appearwho could be seen as distortions of the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter.
Jeliza-Rose (Ferland) isthe little girl with a powerful imagination. She has built a whole fantasyworld around her conversations with four severed dolls' heads and the journeysshe takes in her mind. This is a vital survival mechanism as both her parentsare junkies and she regularly prepares and administers their fixes.
When her mother (Tilly)dies, her rock star father Noah (Bridges) decides to take her on a trip to adilapidated old house in the vast emptiness of sprawling golden cornfields.
Here, she meets theblack-garbed Dell (McTeer) who has been blinded in one eye by a bee and herbrother Dickens (Fletcher), a mentally damaged young man who dresses in a wetsuit and a pair of Speedos and claims to be in search of a monster shark. Theyprovide further fuel for her increasingly lurid fantasies as her life becomesmore bizarre than any fiction she might be able to concoct.
The character ofJeliza-Rose appears in every scene of Tideland and has to carry largestretches of the film on her own. It would be an exceptional burden to place onan experienced adult performer and really requires an outstanding child actorto make the film work.
Jodelle Ferland iswide-eyed and willing but doesn't find the emotional shadings necessary tobring the character alive. Terrible things happen to Jeliza-Rose and she copesthe best way she can but we don't make the connection with her that wouldsustain or interest and compassion through what comes to seem an inordinatelylong film.
Jennifer Tilly is almost asoverblown here as she is in the Child's Play series and Jeff Bridges haswhat must be the most thankless role of his career. In the early stages of thefilm, he has the bedraggled look of a tired and emotional Nick Nolte and in therest of the film he is merely a corpse in a chair, decaying, attracting fliesand eventually being embalmed. Tucked up in bed or propped up at the dinnertable, he is still considered a member of the family, just like Norman's motherin Psycho.
Tideland does look very beautiful,with Nicola Pecorini capturing some striking images of cornfields andcountryside and the camera constantly prowling and tilting to emphasis the wayreality has become skewered. The craftsmanship is small compensation in a filmthat is too often merely weird and uninvolving.
Recorded Picture Company
based on the novel by Mitch Cullin